This project began in 2015 as a way to safely revisit Hurricane Katrina and the decade that had passed since. The call for submissions read in part:
With the anniversary’s overload of media and images of the storm, I think that now is an important time to carefully revisit our own stories from that time - what happened - where we went - how we’ve changed - what we wish we would’ve done different - why - how glad we are to be back in this place - how glad we are to be alive - and how anguished we still are from the loss.
This layer was exhibited on August 29, 2015 at Byrdie's Gallery in New Orleans.
¿Que fue... fue tremendo, verdad? Lo que pasó para esa fecha. Porque nadie lo esperábamos. Y fue muy extraño. Pero la naturaleza de Dios, ¿verdad? Entonces, con la naturaleza de Dios, pues, no podemos…. Y como es la naturaleza de Dios, verdad, nadie puede impedir que pasen las cosas. ¿Verdad? Entonces, pero si, causó muchos estragos, en muchas personas. Y mi familia, gracias a Dios, no pasó nada. Ni mis amigos. Pero si otras personas, si, oí que hasta - y incluso supe, no sé, que varios policías se quitaron la vida. Porque no pudieron, no se dieron abasto para ayudar a las personas. Entonces yo miraba la gente en los techos y cuando, me impresionó, cuando vi las noticias cómo estaba Luisiana. Digo yo, wow, Luisiana. Dije yo, se perdió Luisiana. Y yo pensé que se había perdido. Que había desaparecido, ¿verdad? , del mapa, como decimos nosotros. Y digo yo, y pues si me puse a llorar porque digo yo, wow Luisiana. Y cada vez, se que iban para, que pasaban, nos fuimos a un Motel Six, allí en Texas, que pasan así en la carretera, pasaban muchas, muchas trocas, grandes trocas de Wal Mart, de Super Wal Mart, y decía yo, ay Luisiana. (Laughs), ¡ay Luisiana! Porque yo como iba a Wal Mart aquí, entonces se me venía a la mente mucho Luisiana, Luisiana. Y decía yo, ay Dios, y peor fue cuando no podíamos entrar aquí que decía que no - nadie podía que regresar aquí, porque no había agua, no había luz, y muertos, era un desastre. Y decía yo, ay Dios mío. Ay Dios mío. Para dónde vuelvo yo?
Sí antes del huracán, yo salí sábado, creo, sábado en la noche. Con amigos. Mi hijo se fue aparte con la familia de él. Yo me fui con amigos. Porque decían la gente que teníamos que evacuar. Todo el mundo, evacuar, evacuar, evacuar. Las noticias. Y las escuelas decían que, y la gente también decía que había que evacuar, que había que irse. También estaban tirando alarmas por teléfonos, por la radio, que venía el huracán, y mucha gente decía no. Porque subió a categoría, bajo a categoría tres, ¿verdad? y después subió a categoría cinco. Y aquí sí se quedaron unos amigos míos. Yo dejé mi carro, aquí en mi parquero. Sí. Le dejé las llaves a un amigo. Y le digo yo, si necesita el carro, ándate. ¿Verdad? Porque yo me fui con gente. Y sí, el agarró las llaves sí, agarró mi carro y se fue pa’ Houston. Se le entró todo el agua! Y en ese carro mío, se fueron ellos para Houston después del huracán. De Kenner. Se fueron ellos. Ellos se quedaron aquí para el huracán y dice que así, shhhh, el agua, el aire, aquello, todo arriba, dicen, todo, los aires acondicionados, los techos, todo … el agua por allá. Y la gente que dice allí, allí, por un, allí en Williams, ¿WIlliams y West Esplanade? Dicen que en esos, en una lanchita, así como en ese bote que se está haciendo usted. En la lanchita que andaba gente. En Williams. Andaba gente, allí, dicen. Sí (laughs). Pero mucha gente entró a robar. Sí. (Toda la gente habla de eso). Quebró los vidrios. (Viendo la gente robando es algo que duele.)Duele. Sí…
Pero siempre habían huracanes. Supuestamente venían huracanes. Que el huracán esto, que el huracán aquí, todos. Y no, no pasaba nada, gracias a Dios. Y pero con Caterina, sí. Con Caterina.
Eso fue el problema. Que los levees fue que se rompieron. Por que si no, no hubiera pasado nada. Pienso yo… No sé … Pero yo miraba toda la gente y decía yo, ay Dios mío. Luisiana. Luisiana.
Lo miraba las noticias en la televisión, y decía yo ¡qué barbaridad! No lo creo, decía, no lo creo. No creo que Luisiana haya pasado esa tremendo-- tremendo desastre.
Y decía yo, ¿como estará mi apartamento? Porque yo dejé todo, todo! todo! todo! Yo solo saqué … Como siempre decían, que venían huracanes, y no pasaba nada, nosotros nos íbamos para Houston con mi hijo, y regresábamos después. Yo solo echaba … pero con Caterina, yo solo me llevé tres mudabas de ropa. Y un par de … dos pares de zapatos. Mis joyas, aretes, todo … reloj, cadenas, todo de oro, todo me lo robaron. Todo! Todo! Sí. Todo! Todo! Toda! Todas! Tenía una cadena que me había costado trecientos dólares . Y me robaron todo. Un reloj de oro. Siete cien. Todo. Todo. Todas mis joyas me robaron porque quebraron la ventana. Quebraron la ventana de enfrente y quebraron la ventana de atrás. Y por allí se entraron. Solo, solo eso se robaron.
(Es loco que durante la emergencia, hay gente que, se puede ver todo, se puede ver esa cosa con la gente muy mal y se puede ver ese gente que esta ayudando mucho, mucho, durante el huracán, durante ese tiempo se puede ver todo.)
Se mira gente buena y gente mala, porque hay mucha gente que quiere ayudar y anda gente que quiere robar, que quiere meterse a las casas. En Burlington. ¿Usted no sabe dónde es Burlington? (Burlington Coat Factory?). Aha! Pero antes era otra, no me acuerdo cómo se llamaba.
Era buena gente. Éramos latinos, todos. Haciendo comida, comiendo todos, una iba a comprar agua. Pero muchas iglesias estaban dando comida. La Iglesia católica estaba dando comida. Y mucha gente antes estaban dando agua. Sí. Se paraban así, como aquí por, en parqueros, se ponían los carros o algunas carpas, y allí uno iba a agarrar los six packs de agua, daban comida. Daban agua, de todo, de todo. La Iglesia católica daban mucho. Mucho.
Mis patronas se fueron, entonces dije yo si me toca ir a barrer un patio o a recoger la basura, yo voy, mientras me paguen, ¿verdad? porque no podía trabajar sin sueldo. Y así, muchas -- se la entraron agua, mucha gente me llamaba, me pagaban veinte dólares para limpiar los baseboards, o lavar algo allí, pasar un mop, o algo así. Sí mucha gente me llamaba. De Kenner. Y nos vacunamos, pero allá en Texas nos pusieron la vacuna, por si nos metíamos un vidrio, una herida o algo. Para que no agarráramos una enfermedad. Y cuando, cuando vine aquí, el veintiuno de septiembre de ese año, después de Caterina, estaba New Orleans …! Uhmm … todo tirado. Los árboles. Los alambres de luz, los postes. Todo, todo, todo! Y había mal olor. Porque como la gente toda nos fuimos se quedaron las refrigeradoras con comida. Pero estuvo bastante feo, porque dice uno … New Orleans, pues, antes era tranquilo. Antes de Caterina era tranquilo. Mucha gente buena, pues. Ya en el trayecto de Caterina, fue que se dio la gente que no estaba por ayudar y la gente que estaba por trabajar. Y ya después, fue mucho y también porque eran muchos latinos, pienso yo, ¿verdad?, que Luisiana se ha levantado por mucho latino para trabajar, después de Caterina, sí. Se ha levantado.
Personas diferentes, mucha gente de afuera. Mucha gente de Houston. Muchos mexicanos. Anda mucha gente diferente, pues. Y ha trabajado porque ha trabajado. Pero no es lo mismo, a que estemos toda la gente que vivíamos antes de aquí, a que venga otra gente. De afuera. Pero… Gente que solo de vista, nada más, porque nos miramos y hey o hola, sí, ¿verdad? Pero no hay una relación de amigos. Pero sí. Ya no es igual. Porque se mira muy como triste. Lo veo yo así, muy …, no sé, pero si lo que me ha impactado bastante es, allá en Bourbon Street, el jazz. Que es, si no paraba, el jazz. Eso si me impresiona a mí porque hay gente que levanta, emocionante pues, de oír, que el jazz, y todo eso, … que Bourbon, que siempre continúa, a pesar de … A pesar de cualquier cosa que pasó. Siempre, y fueron de más también … Porque allá dio más fuerte. Pero esa gente impresiona bastante, el jazz, y sale en la televisión.
No, cuando yo miro en la televisión, yo pongo … porque tenemos música, el jazz. Hay como varias formas de jazz, ¿verdad?, varias diferentes …
Yo tengo… Yo vivo aquí desde el ochenta y nueve. Aquí en Luisiana, y he ido en Bourbon Street dos veces. (Laughs.). Tres veces! Una vez nos fuimos en bus porque queríamos experimentar pero antes de Caterina, verdad. Antes de Caterina queríamos experimentar con un montón de amigos. Y nos fuimos en bus allá, allá a Bourbon, anduvimos caminando allí y tomando, y entrando a los clubs, viendo todo! Bien bonito. Allí entrábamos. Lo triste fue cuando nos íbamos a dormir, fue de madrugada. Fue como a las tres de la mañana, cuatro. Nos venimos a caminar desde allá hasta aquí en canal para poder agarrar un taxi. Y veníamos uno encima de otro… Pero todo bien bonito.
Bourbon Street está lo mismo. Porque después de Caterina se miraba que salía en la televisión, allí se ponían en las calles, y todo eso… Yo miraba mucho que se ponía eso.
Eso es lo que emociona en Luisiana. Allá el downtown. En Bourbon. Está el parque Francés, ¿verdad? Y todo eso, todo lo que la gente allí. La gente que vive el mundo de ellos, verdad? Que es lo que atrae a la gente aquí, porque aquí no hay donde divertirse uno… Digamos que uno quiere ir a bañarse a una playa, no hay, aquí, verdad, cerca, está Pensacola y todo eso, para allá. Pero eso es lo que le da la vida a New Orleans. Esa música, el jazz, todo, todo lo que hacen allí en Bourbon Street. Eso es lo que le da vida a Luisiana. Eso. Lo que lo mantiene vivo.
Decían se perdió Luisiana. Decían que … Me entró como, como pánico, como miedo, el no regresar aquí. Decía, es que ya no hay Luisiana, es que ya no voy a volver. Porque mucha gente decía que ya Luisiana había desaparecido. Que en Luisiana ya no había ni trabajo, ni casa, nada. Decía yo, no. Me entró como depresión. Me entró depresión, decía yo … ni lloraba. ¡Tanta gente que había muerto! Y más que, todos los animalitos.. Se murieron perritos, se murieron gatitos, de todo, toda clase del animal.
Y lo malo que mucha gente se benefició de Caterina, mucha gente, porque FEMA trató de ayudar a mucha gente … Mucha gente sí tenía necesidad, pero mucha gente que no …
Prácticamente no perdí nada de material, de muebles, nada. Pero
la Cruz Roja sí me dio lo que estaba dando. FEMA si me dio como mil quinientos dólares. Que salí, que tenía que mostrar los recibos, de tiendas, todo eso. Me dieron también la ….. por tres meses De esa parte si me ayudaron, pero no me dieron dinero en efectivo. Sí lo necesitaba, pero había más gente que lo necesitaba.
Pero son historias inolvidables, ¿no? Son cosas que no se olvidan. Lo de Caterina no se olvida. Tanto emocional como económico, porque a pesar de lo de Caterina es que Luisiana bajó en lo que es el trabajo, porque mucha gente de afuera viene a hacer trabajo por menos dinero. Sí. Hay gente que hace como yo que limpio casas. Hay compañías que tienen gente y van tres personas a limpiar, digamos aquí a esta casa si alguien la viniera a limpiar, tres personas, por una hora, ganan ochenta dólares. Pero es por una hora, que le van a hacer toda la casa. Es diferente, sí, por eso es que ya uno casi no … Pero se limpia como seis casas en el día. No es una casa diaria, son seis! Hay menos trabajo para unos housekeeper, para construcción, porque hay mucha gente, para los pintores, los que pintan las casas, viene gente a hacerlo por menos dinero porque, sí, mi hijo es pintor, ¿verdad? Es contratista, entonces, a él lo llaman para que vaya a dar el precio, allí dan precio, digamos que ponga unos diez mil dólares, digamos, de lo que va a hacer, poniendo el material de él, entonces dice la persona ”¡déjame pensarlo, yo te llamo, dame tu número de teléfono!” Entonces viene otra compañía y le dice “¿cuánto me cobra?” y dice ”siete o seis mil”, entonces … mi hijo le cobrara diez. Entonces salía así. Sí, mucha gente se ha ido, ahorita sí mucha gente se ha ido de aquí a buscar a otros estados. Yo conozco gente que se ha ido para otros estados. Chicago, Providence, Nueva York, no creo, Nueva York el alquiler es caro, y Chicago pues, mucho frío. Providence, también.
Recorded August 2015
They started with the mailbox—we found a leaking hole where it leaned.
Christmas comes & they yank lights still blinking from the shingles.
Yanked shingles too. The bricks, the roofing tiles, the turret spun
through hurricanes & stay slightly dilapidated. Pulled up sod,
dug out the trees, ripped fixtures, our old carpet stains too,
the watermelons & coupons kept father sane after his
heart half died. Someone not us got paid—the fence
missing, the neighbor's patio nowhere. Windows
stripped from frames stripped from the walls.
Muck dribbled feet made naked by takers.
One chubby politician screamed himself
hoarse, stayed hoarse for the campaign.
Take the tackle box, rod, bait bucket,
the lures. When they took the boat
they didn't take floating keychain
keys till they took that too. Took
mower, light bulbs, wall studs.
Muck where was once a home.
They took my mother's sugar
cookie recipe, my brother's
cds I didn't take, kryloned
number from the curb.
They take the dirt
the weak beagle's
sense of smell,
& sell it back to us by the gallon.
Lavender Ink, 2013
There's Value in the Land You Live On
I was away for college when Katrina hit. I knew my parents were going to ride out the storm like they had every other one. But I called anyway and asked them to evacuate. The answer was no. My parents, my sister, two dogs, and Lanise, staying at my dad’s office to wait it out. There was little service and texting wasn’t very popular. Being in college, I just assumed everything would be OK and didn’t need to worry. The next couple of days were a blur… lots of the Weather Channel. But soon word spread that the city was underwater….
Our house was spared but the city was uninhabitable...They were all forced to evacuate after the storm. At the time I was living in a four bedroom apartment with six college girls. Imagine the surprise when I told them my brother and sister were on their way in town. And I didn't care if they cared. They were on their way in town and would stay with us for the time being. I don’t remember anyone being bothered by it. But either way, they came and they stayed in our loft and on the pull-out bed.
There was a lot of uncertainty at that time. Would the city be rebuilt? Would people come back? Would there be jobs when you came back?
My parents managed to put on a face of normalcy for us. They moved back much sooner than a lot of people which I guess was lucky, but it was still an incredibly stressful time for them given all of the unknowns. I was in kind of a protected cocoon away at college, so I was sheltered from much of this. My mother and sister had to deal with it more head-on. My brother eventually ended up in Dallas living with a nice family and going to school there. I remember them telling me about how at the new school, they gave all of the Katrina kids old clothes and stuff. It was very very generous of them, but I think I remember my mom crying. It was people like this, their generosity in the face of catastrophe that makes us see the goodness within people.
It also is amazing that New Orleans has come back thriving. Ten years later, we were all back home and it was almost like nothing had changed. Anyone who has been to New Orleans knows what a special place it is. There is nothing like it anywhere else. That’s what keeps bringing people back. I’m happy to admit that one day I may be the stubborn old mule like my parents and hunker down for the storm and come back after and say, “YOU CAN’T KEEP ME AWAY.”
During Hurricane Katrina, I was at school in Mississippi at Ole Miss. Of course I remember hearing about the hurricane coming, but I thought it was like every other hurricane. We would have a hurricane party in the normal fashion. I was pretty upset I wasn’t home to celebrate in New Orleans. It was always a huge party. That’s what I thought of when Hurricanes came.
I would just have to make do in my dorm room with my sorority friends. We had a party for any reason. Little did I know it would end in devastation and panic and worry. After the hurricane hit, I got word that it wasn’t like the other hurricanes. My city was underwater. We weren't able to get in touch with anyone. All of the phones were off. This was very different than what we were used to.
Everyone in my family except me and my sister were still in the city. That’s when I began to worry. I knew they would be okay. My family withstood hurricanes plenty of times before. They loved to ride it out in New Orleans. Their house was the house to be during hurricanes. They would have the hurricane party and be prepared to ride it out.
When I finally got in touch with them. We couldn’t make calls but texts finally went through. They made their way back to my parents’ house. My brother and my headstrong sister, a lot of baggage, a dog, and Lanise too. They got through and I finally got word that our house didn’t flood. But there were thousands of houses that flooded. People that didn’t make it. I was one of the lucky ones that didn't lose a single person or a single thing? But I watched so many other people suffer from their losses after. It was heart wrenching.
I was truly blessed not to be there or lose anything but it affected me nonetheless to see the devastation so close to my own backyard. My friends lost houses, loved ones, sentimental values etc. It would change our lives forever...We would never party the same. We would never take the storms lightly. I would never take this city for granted. I think my biggest worry was that my friends would be gone. Or the city would never rebuild and we couldn't return. Either way we wouldn’t ever be the same.
But the fight you saw people put up was amazing. People really came together to get the city back on its feet. That was the most powerful sight. Our city was rebuilt quickly because people had such a huge connection to home. It wouldn’t be washed away so quickly.
recorded and transcribed August 2015
New Orleans, LA
It’s so many things to remember. That’s why I don’t try to remember. I don’t.
I don’t think it will take anything to remind people of Katrina. It was that devastating. But at the same time, to have something to commemorate that particular day, you know what I’m saying.
Maybe the boat’s sittin on a wave or something. With a lot of people, screaming, to come and get em. I might not be here if I’d have been here for Katrina. Cause I can’t swim.
It was really dark. Noisy. Ferocious. I mean it was water, flooding.
No water, we didn’t get no water till that mornin. Not Uptown anyway. And that’s where I was, Uptown.
I remember how dark it was. That night. The night after the storm. Cause we were still at the hospital. And then I remember, cause we were up high, and I remember looking out and it was just, like, you couldn’t see anything. There were no lights. There were no, no lights at all. They were off everywhere.
In the name of God, I hope we don’t never have to go through anything like that again.
The water started receding. And we decided to come out, remember? And that’s when we ran into Herschel going into work. But we got her, and, we went on. Then as we were driving along, the water started pushing the manhole covers off. That’s how powerful it was. We was watching that. Pushing the manhole covers off. We went on Uptown. I don’t remember if we went down Carrollton, then we turn around and we come back. Anyway, we wind up coming back to the house (in Metairie). They didn’t get no water over there, just like I didn’t get no water where I lived. On Willow between General Ogden and Eagle.
Back in Metairie, at the house...They had a few people trying to clear debris and stuff. But most people was inside or gone.
They had trees down across the streets in different places.
Mary's gonna tell me to come on and walk wit her. I said, “okay.”
You know how long her legs are?!
She went to walkin! I'm tryin to keep up. I said. “Mary you go on and walk. Ima stand here and wait for you. I'll stand right here and wait for you.”
After, when we left, evacuated, and we went to Texas to bring Christopher to school. But the first school, we didn’t like or you didn’t like, so we took you to another one, remember? Both of em were Jesuit. But we stayed in a hotel for one night. Boy. That bed. You just get in the bed and just sink on down. Just like you — just like clouds are covering you. But that damn Bubba. Bubba almost…
They didn’t have no water at all in my neighborhood. But they cut off the sewage and all this kind of stuff, but we didn’t have no choice but to go. You know? I mean, no water, right on the other side of Claiborne. You know how it was, by where I lived they didn’t have no water.
So then, your daddy, when we came into town, cause I was out of town with them. So I had told Mary, I said when we go and yall bring me home, I just wanted to check everything out, have them drop me off and then you know come back and pick me up. Just like that, you know. I done forgot what they was goin to do, anyway. When we got to the house, Ed got out of the car, said, We’re going in. Mary said ED, Didn’t she say she didn’t want us to go in? He said, We’re going in. Oh. … We had fun though…
That was the saddest time when I had to leave Christopher. I had to leave him in Texas.
It was a sad day.
I used to go, when we went to Alabama. Ed’s brother’s house. I used to go in the bedroom by myself and just cry. Cause I didn’t have— I wasn’t in touch with anybody. You know? ‘Course I was with your mom, and your dad. I mean, hell, we lived together. But I’m talking about on my side. I didn’t know where nobody was, even how to get in touch with anybody. And I used to just…
I was baffled, for a long— I’m still baffled. But I mean I’ve come to see that that’s what happened. But I was so outdone, Christopher, when these people opened their arms and their homes and their hearts and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, c’mon and stay at my house.’ You know, and until you can, you know, see --- clear and the people took em in, they wound up robbing em. In some cases being killed, and, it was, it was awful. Just in the papers and, um, word of mouth, and you know stuff like that. And then after everything kind of cleared up and it was on the television and you know, telling about different families and their experiences, and what happened to them, and me myself, when we, they were giving out a certain amount of food stamps, I seen people myself go through the line, get whatever they were gonna give em, go back through the line again, you understand. I saw that with my own eyes. I was with your mom then. And we sat and watched that, watched people… looting everything. All those stores and things that had been broken into. It was awful! Where are we? Whats gonna happen?
That don’t give you no reason do that. Even Katrina, a terrible storm like Katrina don’t give you no reason to do that. Cause just look at how everything was just handed out on a silver platter. You know, why would you have to break in? I would have given you what you needed, you know? And then, what if they asked you this: you can only wear one pair of sneakers. so where is this person going with SIX or EIGHT pair of sneakers? And if you needed a pair of shoes, you get A pair of shoes, and you go on about your business. But they had loads of them.
I don’t know, Christopher, it’s like some people, don’t matter what they get, or how much of something they get, they still want more. You understand what I’m saying? At some point in your life, you’re supposed to be satisfied. You know what I’m saying? You say, ‘Well, I’ve done this, I’ve done this...I’m satisfied with my life. I mean, I like the way things are right now. But no, gimme some more, gimme some more.’ GREED. That’s a sin, yeah. It’s a sin.
Me myself, it don’t take much for me. It don’t take much for me. You know what kind of comfort you need? Is having a roof over my head, being able to go to the store to get me a pair of shorts or something, don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul. You understand? You know? and to sit down and eat a decent meal and to be able to pay my bills. I’m satisfied! An old raggedy ride. And you know me. I like to, I hold on to my car till they scream. Till the wheels fall off. Jacinta’s car? Yeah! That car could outrun the average car on the highway. That’s what kind of shape I kept it in, you know? And I was satisfied with that.
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans, LA
There’s a hope somewhere in every child that one’s school will one day burn to the ground, or that a snow day will keep its doors from opening. It is a feeling that tames smallness and insignificance with the knowledge that sometimes something bigger than even Jesus might control your world. It was over the rainbow for Dorothy and down the rabbit hole for Alice. In the order and grid of America it might only come in the monstrous snowcloud ready to blind everything in wind and white.
And in some places it spins in the vortex of a hurricane.
An extreme drop in barometric pressure heralds the onset of tropical weather as tellingly as any meteorologist with a blue screen. When the pressure falls, a bright grey haze covers everything like a cotton blanket. The tree branches stop shaking and everything waits, vibrating so fitfully that all appears still. As a child, my excitement rose as this pressure dropped, and I imagined muddy overalled children paddling through streets flowing like streams, the jags of water tumbling around white at the sharp crests, sweeping the leaves away.
After a good storm, the world remains in awe, and the only motion is the drop of water that rolls down a leaf and into the mud. The divot in the ground fills slowly with water. A spider dances on the surface.
Greater New Orleans, like just about any other city, will fill with water if enough rain falls. But in those other cities, the water goes away - down hills, into reservoirs, somewhere else - while in New Orleans, if no one moves it, the water pools into a brownish green mass that stares at you too long, for New Orleans has no hills. New Orleans, in fact, slopes downward more than it does upward. The contour of its terrain resembles a bowl much more than a hill.
Such is the enigmatic geology of this land. A normal society sits high and gradually runs towards water. But New Orleans sits with its toes in the Mississippi River and slouches gradually into what should be an amphibious sludge. It is, by nature, an extension of the river rather than a hold of the land. Rock solid America ends in an arc somewhere between Houston and Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Lower Louisiana is a quite new invention, which Mark Twain calls “the youthfulest batch of country that lies around.” For the land on which the city sits is what scientists call “sediment.” It’s residue, remains, runoff, recycled surplus.
The process begins when it rains in Cincinatti, or the snow melts in Denver, or an old woman hoses down her porch in Pittsburgh, or a child pees in Minneapolis, and the water streams down into the Ohio, the Platte, the Allegheny, the Red, the White. And they all feed into the prodigious Mississippi, which tumbles downward until it collides with the sea in an equivalent of 166 big rigs slamming into the still gulf every single second.
With this intersection of salt and freshwater new worlds are born. Estuaries, we call them, from the Latin root heat, boil, and bubble. The river dumps the hilltop mud, the creekbed silt, the snowmelt grit, the dirt from the porch, the felled trees, the fish, turtles, snakes, eel, seeds, bones, and everything else that it picks up in its drainage of 41 percent of the United States. The power of the river in this way grows a new place – a fresh, ugly, pure brown simmering lifeform – courtesy of the trimmings of middle America. Like a packrat, Louisiana has stored this lagniappe in a teeming suspension of sometimes-hardening swamp muck.
The river stretches its mouth slowly southwards every second. Its head fans outward only during bacchanal springtime high flow, when it heaves its vitality over the bank, and the mud left behind dries in the summer heat and sprouts green life from the seedlings washed down from the Autumn north, and semi-solid ground happens. Mark Twain marvels that the six million tons of mud that the Mississippi carries each year “[if] solidified would make a mass a mile square and 241 feet high.”
So at the bottom edge the map of New Orleans is the U of the river, which cradles the Crescent City. The middle of the U is the vulnerable depths of the bowl. Then the land climbs slowly up to the forgotten sediment deposits of old river paths, which top the northside of the city like a ragged umbrella. My home sits on one of these bygone pieces of the river delta, an antique vestige of a time when the river was free to be fickle. Three thousand years ago the Metairie Ridge Distributary Channel shot from the main river channel and made its own land and its own leap to the gulf. Fifteen years ago I sat on this ridge watched the city for the first time fill with water.
I always heard about what could happen to the city if a hurricane pushed up into the mouth of the Mississippi and the city filled with water. “Below sea level” and “broken levees” were words said often, but they were said with levity, almost boastfully, as if the vulnerability were fake jewelry to be worn by this castle city. I heard about Betsy in the sixties. The grainy black and white people stood little on roofs in the photographs, peering up at cameras and waving their little arms. I listened to Randy Newman’s song, Louisiana, on tape and CD, where “It rained real hard and it rained for a real long time. Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.” But it all was just lore and pomp.
In the May Flood of 1995, a gold Volkswagen that belonged to my sister’s friend filled with rainwater and died. A newspaper photo from the flood is pinned on the bulletin board in my parents’ pantry. It shows a cross-legged man, leaning back in his chair, smoking a cigarette and watching the water from his porch. He is waiting for someone to come and pick up the dead body shrouded in a white sheet at his feet.
They happened when a powerful storm passed through the city and overwhelmed the drainage pumps. For me it seemed little more than what we called “a rainy day schedule” at St. Catherine’s. Sister Imelda’s Irish accent called for an early dismissal from the intercom box, muttered a prayer to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and urged silence in the process to follow. Hundreds of children sat inside on the mudded, wet-streaked hallway floor, with our knees folded up to our wet chins. We looked at all the ruffled hair and opened mouths and big eyes sitting across from us under the fluorescent rectangle lights. We watched, bending our wrists and pulling our fingers, as the teacher with the clear plastic rain bonnet entered from the yellow darkness outside. We waited for her megaphone to call our names over the voices. When it did, we pressed our hands into the grainy floor and got up, walking beneath the awning outside, into the car and home. Sprayed only with mist as the ground piled up with two feet of water far beyond the car windows.
When a small hurricane named Erin passed during my family’s vacation the summer after the May Flood, only the adults could go outside. The children made dolls from Popsicle sticks inside of the condo because we hadn’t the weight to hold ourselves down. We could have flown away in the wind. We watched the weather through the windows and the television. On the news, a trailer skidded across a parking lot and crashed into a billboard. After the storm passed, we found that it had pushed thousands of jellyfish onto the shore, and they didn’t sting when you touched them.
Three years later, my father and I boarded the shutters closed for Hurricane Georges. Everyone said that it would be the one we were all waiting for. The big one. For the first time, the Superdome was filled with evacuees. My house was filled with the same family friends who vacationed together during Hurricane Erin. Before the storm we all stood on top of the levee that surrounded the lake to the north and leaned into the force of the wind, feeling its push against our small chests, feeling the power of something invisible that could propel a body and counter gravity. Waves as high as the ones in Florida lashed at the concrete seawall. The splash shot up and hung in the air; the wind carried it into our faces. I wondered how waves could be so big only a bike ride from my house on the flat lake. That night we played Scattegories under lantern light during the storm; the game’s timer rattled alongside the low hum of the wind outside. But the wind never howled. It never screamed because Georges dodged us just like they had always done.
And it still really hasn’t happened. Katrina doesn’t count. Katrina was only a category three. Katrina shot east to Mississippi, just like Georges did. Katrina, they say, was a manmade disaster.
But what I saw of it was enough. It was the morning that the winds had stopped when I no longer wanted to see what would happen if the city filled with water. The sun was shining through the windows of my father’s office building. The building had stopped shaking. And we listened to Angela Hill on the radio. We couldn’t see her silver hair or bouffant outfits but we knew they were there. We had listened to her forever, during the May Flood and Georges and every tropical system that came every year to silence and shake the city. She and the other guy thought we had dodged a bullet.
Calls went in to the radio about fallen levees in Lower Louisiana and neighboring St. Bernard Parish, but through the window of the office, I saw streets with levels of flood water that could have been dumped by a summer storm. Surely the pumps would catch up and we would be home the next morning.
“This was a dud.” I said to no one.
My dad’s work partner was staring at the radio and he turned, red faced, strained, “This is going to be bad. Did you want something to happen?”
recorded and transcribed August 2015
New Orleans, LA
I have so many emotions and I have so many details that I can’t even begin to take a pen to paper.
… Alright. Here we go. When did I first know the storm was coming? I did not know the storm was coming until the Saturday before it happened at a volleyball game.
On a Saturday. And somebody said, “Oh, there’s a storm coming.” And I said, “What storm?” And all of a sudden all hell broke loose, and you’re glued to the tube and you watch it, and... I got on the phone and I made reservations at the Ritz Carlton, cause I was going to evacuate up. Because one of my friends said, “Don’t ever evacuate. Evacuate up. Don’t evacuate horizontally. Evacuate vertically.”... Meaning, don’t leave town, because the storm might hit there, so just go up because the storm.
So I went to bed never thinking anything. Didn’t know anything about the storm. Never even watched TV. Five o’clock in the morning, I get a phone call...
I mean, really, until Saturday at the volleyball game, I had no idea there was even a storm in the Gulf. I was oblivious until I went to the volleyball game. And then I was all nervous and I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” So Sunday morning Leslie Kitziger calls me. And she’s evacuated. And she never evacuates, and she calls me at five o’clock in the morning and she says, “Get up. And get out.”
And I said, “What are you talking about?”
She says, “Turn the TV on. It’s hittin us. You gotta get out. Kurt and I loaded up the kids. We’re out of here. Get out of the city.”
So I wake up in a tizzy and I go and I turn on the TV and I see the storm heading to us and it’s hitting us... and I say, “Oh fuck, I’m gettin out.” Regardless of what plans I had made that day to evacuate up. Downtown New Orleans, I said, “Nope. I’m going. I’m leaving, leaving. If Leslie’s leavin’, then I’m leavin’. I mean, she’s, she’s not a nervine. So if she’s leavin’, I’m leavin’. So then I get the kids up. I said, “Pack your bags, for two days, we’re leaving right now.” And they’re all sleepy-eyed, I mean, It’s five o’clock in the morning…
They just think mom’s stupid, it’s just another event. She’s going through her… She’s got menopause or whatever, like, “Okay.” And they’re just like, “What!?”
And I’m just like, “Okay, okay, just don’t yell at me.”
So I'm yelling at all of ‘em, “Get up! Pack your bags. Two days clothes. We’re leaving in half an hour.” You know. We’re leaving the dogs behind. We gotta get the food, get this, get that get that get that.
And I called Clay. He was living Uptown. I said, “We’re leaving. We’re leavin the dog and the cat.”
He said, “Leave the dog and the cat. We’re coming. I’ll come, I’ll come take care of them. You leave. You go to my family’s place in Shreveport.” (Cause I don’t know where to go.) He said, “Go to my family’s place in Shreveport.”
I say, “Okay. We’re gonna go there”—get in the car—Leslie’s calling me are you getting out? are you getting out? I’m getting out. I’m getting out. I called Bill. I did call Bill, I’m not evacuating North. I’m going vertical. I’m goin vertical. I’m going vertical.
He’s like, “No! You don’t need to…”
I’m like, “Yes. I’m going.” Really. I’m… I left with my flip flops. Pretty much. And one day of clothes cause I just told the kids, and we got in the car, and we just left. That was it. Just left.
Bill, oh my god that was a horrible story. He did go to the Ritz. It was horrible. Bill told me stories. Thank God I didn’t go. But he was there with his two sons and the Ritz had this policy at the time that all the Ritz employees’ families could evacuate with the Ritz. And they did not think it was going to be a big deal, right? So everybody was at the Ritz, and they were treating guests a little differently than employees, so the guests were getting taken care of. And it was also the Tulane, Tulane University—what is that the first week of school— orientation. So all these New Yorkers, cause a lot of Tulane first-year people are from New York and their parents are staying at the Ritz.
So they’re all blindsided by this. So they’re all at the Ritz and Bill’s at the Ritz, and they’re all on the third floor, which is the lobby of the Ritz, looking out over Canal, and all the water comes in, and all these people are— all just going through every store on Canal and everyone at the Ritz is just watching this, saying, “Oh my God, why is this happening? What is going on?”
And the water is rising and they’re vandalizing all of the stores, and they’re breaking all the windows and there’s bedlam on the streets of Canal. And everybody’s just outraged, but they can’t do anything.
And then all of the sudden the electricity went out. You know because for the first two days, they had generators, so Monday, Tuesday, Sunday Monday, they had generators, well, no, Sunday they didn’t. Monday Tuesday they had generators cause the electricity went out. But there’s all these people. And there’s a very big divide between the guests and the employees and maybe your friend Hector told you this. Because the employees had their space and the guests were taken care of, and then all of the sudden, everything went to pot, because when the electricity went out, and there’s no food and there’s no AC, and there’s no electricity, everybody just blends into one. You know, Bill’s on the sixth or seventh floor, and there’s no electricity and he’s taking his kids down to the lobby which is on the third floor, and everybody’s trying to get air, but you can’t open the windows, and it’s hot. And people are passing out in the lobby. And one person died. He said one person died in the lobby. It was a woman and um, you know, they just didn’t know what to do with her, and then after four days, I think it was Thursday or Friday, I can’t remember which one,... they were evacuating the whole hotel because conditions were deteriorating to such a degree that they just said, “We can’t, we can’t keep you here. You gotta get out.”
So they were sending everybody to the Convention Center, through the water. And they said, “Just make your way to the Convention Center. They have busses there. They’ll take care of you.
And I don’t know if he was NOPD, or just a guard, or a hotel guy or whatever he was, who Bill had befriended over the days, pulled him aside and said, “Whatever you do, do not go to the Convention Center. Don’t go there. It’s bedlam. Do whatever you can do. But don’t go there.”
So everybody is evacuated from the Ritz out into the water. I mean really out into the water. Through the water. Waste deep water. And Bill had one of his youngest sons on his shoulder and one of his sons, who was taller, with one suitcase, they had one suitcase between all three of them, you know, holding his hand, and they’re walking through the water, and some body rolls by. Like a dead body. Rolls by. And one of the kids sees it and goes, “Dad!,” and he says, “Just kick it away! Kick it away!” So they just kick this body away because it was a dead body.
Oh! this is the other thing. So they finally get to dry land. That guy that was blown up in the… He was an anchor, a news anchor. But he was blown up in Iraq. He was, um, he looked like Peter Jennings, but younger. He was blown up in Iraq, blown up after Katrina… But anyway, so he’s at the end of Poydras, and of course, Bill’s son is a blond, blue eyed kid, real cute, young. So these people are getting through, right. All these anchors are getting through. He calls Wyatt up and he says “What are you going through?” and Wyatt talks to him, and then he goes back to his dad. And it was on TV, and I’m thinkin’, Oh my God. There’s anchors. There’s people who could save you. Help.
But no. They just send them back. It was outside, inside, outside, inside. Cause all these video, all these media could get in, and report the news, yet nobody, they couldn’t help anybody. So but I understand it to a certain degree, but anyway, Bill and this group of people from the Ritz who were told by this one guy at the hotel don’t go under any circumstance to the Convention Center. They end up in some other building on Canal that was blown out and everybody took watch for two or three hours at a time, but they slept there the whole night.
So they all took turns sleeping, and then the next day, he just said, on Canal, some kind of way, busses appeared, and they got up on the busses and they went to Baton Rouge. And he doesn’t know where the busses came from, who put them there, who sent them, but they were busses saying “Load up, we’ll take you out of here,” and he took his kids and he got on. And then he got to Baton Rouge and then from there, you know, he, he went on.
I would’ve been with him. In the water. Pushing dead bodies away, seeing dead bodies in the lobby. I mean, I can’t imagine...
[Leaving on Sunday morning] it really wasn’t that bad, it took us twelve hours to get from New Orleans to Monroe. It took me twelve hours to get - I went from New Orleans to Monroe to Shreveport, twelve hours. It’s usually six. So not that long. It really wasn’t that bad. The worst was getting out of New Orleans.
I mean, she called me at five. I mean, I was quick. I was out of there at five thirty. Clay came. I called him, he came, I was out of there.
I slept great Sunday night. Monday, the storm hit New Orleans and I didn’t worry. I mean, I talked to Clay. He had a cell phone. We had electricity at the house. And he had invited his sister, who lived by the Lake but she was afraid because she was by the Lake, and she thought she’d flood (with good reason). She lived on North Hullen, right, two houses on the Lake, right by Causeway. She was right behind that tall building, right on the Lake. And she was living there with her four, five, six cats. I don’t know how many she had.
So she thought she was going to flood cause she’s right on the Lake. So she called Clay, and Clay said come to my house. I’m in Old Metairie. I’ve got two stories. I’m not going to flood. Bring your cats. So I had a cat and a dog. She had her cats. She brought her two cats, two cats, she brought two cats.. She had two home indoor cats and a bunch of outdoor cats. So we had three cats and a dog, and Clay and Mary. And I left and once I got to Shreveport twelve hours later and I felt good and I called Clay and he said, “Everything’s fine.” And the next day I called him, and he said, “Everything’s fine. It’s windy, but nothing untoward.”
And then Monday night I talked to him when the storm had passed. Pretty much, because you were on Napoleon. And by monday night had not the storm passed?
So he called me and said, “You know, there’s a couple of downed trees, a couple of downed branches. It doesn’t look bad. Everything’s fine,” not to worry. “You can come back tomorrow.”
I’m like, “Okay. I just drove ten hours yesterday and I’ll drive ten hours home tomorrow and we’ll be fine. We’ll get back.” Cause we only had a day’s clothing anyway. … And then nine o’clock the next morning. I swear to God.
I get a call. Nine o’clock. And he calls me up. And he’s swearing, and he’s—
And I’m like, “Slow down!” “Slow down.” “What are you—” “What are you—”
And he’s, “The fuckin water’s comin in and everything’s fuckin wet and I’m goin upstairs..!”
And all I keep thinking was, “Well, did you bring my chairs up? Did you roll up the carpets? Did you do this?”
“FUCK THAT! FUCK —”
I’m like, “Clay! Just bring the chairs up, do this, save anything you can.”
“FUCK THAT, I’M GOING UPSTAIRS.”
That’s all he kept saying, was “FUCK THIS, FUCK THAT, I’M GOING UPSTAIRS!”
And I’m just so mad, cause I’m thinking, “Oh my God, this is going to be ruined, this is going to be ruined, this is going to be ruined.” If I were there, I’d be schleppin’ this stuff upstairs, right? If you were here, what would you do? You’d be bringing it up.
Well Clay’s there and he’s going, “Fuck it. I’m leaving it. I’m going upstairs and I’m going to bed.” And that’s all he tells me.
And I’m like, “Oh my God.”
And that’s the last I heard from him. Then his phone went dead. Tuesday morning. Nine o’clock. When the levees I guess broke.
...Well, whatever it was. He couldn’t process it. Cause he had probably just woken up and he hears the water and he sees this, and he, you know, and the dog’s barking and the cat’s upstairs, and her cats are probably yappin’ and I’m thinking of my furniture! I’m like bring it upstairs! Save what you can! And he’s like, “I’m not saving anything, I’m just going upstairs.” And then I didn’t hear from him.
Well, it ended like, “I’m not doin it,” and then we hung up. It was probably not pretty. But it ended. And then I never— I called him back, called him back, called him back. He never answered.
Yeah. Pretty much immediately. Overwhelmed. Call can’t go through. Call can’t go through. Everybody’s calling everybody. The Verizon was overwhelmed.
We did not text back then. I learned how to text during Katrina… But you know, six hours later, no electricity, the phones are going dead, and I never heard from him again until he got rescued. Five days later.
...I filed a missing report [from Shreveport]. I got online. You could file a missing report. I filed one for Ron. I filed one for Clay. Just kept checking the websites. Just, you know, trying to call the— I called the media. Gave them names of so and so and addresses. This is where he was last time I talked to him. Send a boat. In New Orleans, they wouldn’t send a boat until they could prove that there was actually a person there. So -
....[Maria] got the Coast Guard there. She did have the East Jefferson people helping her. But they even told her. The Coast Guard told her that unless you could prove that there’s somebody in the house alive and needs rescuing—
She swam there.
Naked. Well, not naked. But in her bra and underwear.
… She was at East Jefferson working. And she called me, that’s how I found out about them, because she called me saying she couldn’t get in touch with Clay anymore. And I thought he was dead because an ICU nurse is calling me, saying “Where’s your husband?” And I said, “Oh my God, he’s dead.” And she said, “No, I’m fucking him. I just want to know where he is.”
...So I’m like, “Okay, bitch.” And then after we get through all the rigmarole, I’m like, “Oh my God, where is he?”
She said, “Don’t worry, I’ll find him. And she got in touch with the Coast Guard through East Jefferson because she was at East Jefferson working the, you know, hurricane shift, and they said we’re not going to go to that address unless you could prove to us there’s someone in that house.
So she said, “Fine.” So she got someone to drive her down at the end of Farnham and then somebody met her there. Somebody boated her there. That was it. They boated her from Metairie Road.
...She did swim, but they boated her from Metairie Road to the tracks and they said, “We’re not going beyond that.” And then she said, “Fine!” and then she just went in her skivvies from the tracks to Bella, my street, which is, really only, you know, five houses. But she swam and with a phone in a wet-proof bag.
So by the time she got to Bella, like she swam from the tracks to Bella in her skivvies, she got into Bella, she went upstairs. Clay’s up there going, “What the fuck are you doing?” probably. Or, “Thank God you’re here!” Maybe. However you choose to view the situation. “Oh my dear! I love you so much for being here!”
And she called the Coast Guard and said, “Yes, they’re alive, come get them.”
So then the Coast Guard then flew to Bella and descended onto my upstairs balcony, retrieved Mary, Maria, and Clay, and lifted them up into their helicopter and then said, “We’ll go back for your pets.”
And you know what Clay said? “Fuck em. Leave em there.” Stupid asshole that he is. Left the pets there. Shit and peed on my rug upstairs. That I had to replace. But anyway. Left the dogs and cats. Three cats and a dog. Like. Fuck ‘em. Maria saves him. Could he at least save the animals? No. Leave him. Then he’s got to deal with Mary who’s having a heart attack on the plane...
No [not a real heart attack]. But just an anxiety attack. Can you just imagine being on that helicopter? Can you just imagine those people saying, “Don’t save the kids (sic)?” Sister’s having an anxiety attack. The girl’s in the skivvies, saving the guy who’s, you know, probably high as a kite, and, anyway. And that’s my Katrina story. You want some more?
I got the call that night. That night. Thursday night. He was alone for - him and Mary were alone, you know, just so distraught. For three days! Without electricity. Could you imagine the trauma? I mean, come on. Get a fuckin grip on life.
Oh God, he cried. He was so traumatized. And he was. Traumatized.
...They had plenty of food. But he was not eating anything. And neither was Mary. She was in one bedroom with her three cats. and he was in my bedroom. And the dog and my cat were in another bedroom. And they stayed separate the whole time. And I don’t think they communicated at all. And he even said. You know my neighbor across the street? Newman, who had all those security guards and the big vault of artwork and there were boats coming and going?
He said, “I saw the boats coming and going.”
I said, “Why didn’t you tell them you were there? Why didn’t you get on a boat?” He said, “Aw. I don’t know. I just wanted to be by myself.”
What are you a fucking idiot? I mean there were people. He had opportunities. He chose not to take them. Except he chose to go. He’s afraid of heights, but he chose to go up on a chopper. And get airlifted off the top balcony of our house...
Having water in my house - the house I can rebuild. My marriage is over… Twenty-five years.
I didn’t care about my earthly possessions (laughs)
...And they all know! Because she called on my daughter’s phone. She called on Jamie’s phone, and Jamie said, “Mom, there’s some nurse. There’s some ICU nurse from EJGH on the phone, and she’s asking about Dad.” That’s how I got the call. And I’m saying, “What?” And she says, “I don’t know who this is. She’s asking me about Dad.” She never called me. She called my daughter’s phone. She called Jamie’s phone because that’s the phone number that Clay gave her in emergency— call Jamie. Cause Jamie and Clay were living together at the time. And so Jamie gave me the phone. And I said, “Who is this?”
And she said, “This is Maria.” And I said, “Well Maria who?” And she said, “Maria Roch.”
And I knew her. And I said, “Why are you calling my daughter’s phone?”
“Well I’m calling because I’m concerned about Clay.”
And I said, “Well, you’re an ICU nurse, and you’re worried about Clay. Is he in ICU? Is he dying?” I was just, trying to think of, okay, why is this person calling my daughter’s phone? And then we figured it out.
...I figured it out. I said, “Wait. Are you fuckin my husband?” I mean. That’s what I said. And she said, “Well, I wouldn’t say that exactly but we’ve been seeing each other.”
But. It’s one way to find out.
...Her, her M.O. was to tell me. Cause Clay never had the balls to tell me. It had been going on for almost twenty years. I mean they had been fooling around for a long time. And so this was her opportunity to tell me. Because he couldn’t. And she took it and ran with it. And I think he was very happy about it. That it was off his plate. He didn’t have to deal with it. You know.
Oh yeah. I smoked. I took up smoking again. After twenty years.
I was pissed.
I couldn’t breathe.
It wasn’t so much the fact that he was fooling around with me. It was the amount of time when I found out that it had been going on that long.
She didn’t tell me that it had been going on that long. Corrinne was the one that told me that it had been going on for a long time. Maria never did. Corrinne did.
She told me that she was fooling around with him, and I was upset about that. And then, in the interim, I talked to Corinne, and she said, “Duh, stupid, the book.”
You know the book he wrote? Which was in 1997. Katrina was in 2005. And she said, and the main character was Maria. And she says, “How’d you not figure that out?”
And I’m like, “Oh my God.” Never put two and two together. That’s what pissed me off. Once Corrinne confirmed the fact that it had been going on for a long time, then I was beside myself. I was like, you fuckin bastards. And then it just went from there. But. You know. Now I just go, “She did me a favor.” She stuck with him. I’m not. Funny how things work, isn’t it?
..Oh I really did feel bad for him. I mean, he went through a very hard time. I mean, I talked to him. I talked to him throughout Katrina. And we conversed and exchanged. You know, the kids and I ended up going from New Orleans to Shreveport, Shreveport to Dallas, Dallas to Houston. I was trying to get them in any school that would take them. I mean, really, Clay was out of the box at that time, and I was just trying to get my kids settled and back in school so that they wouldn’t miss a semester. And I don’t think he was really involved in any of that until I got settled. And then I got settled in Houston, and then I called him, and then he came and visited. He was traumatized. I mean he was. He did cry. He was so traumatized by the event. And at the time I kept thinking, “Fuck you, asshole,” you know? I went through all this shit, and you’re gonna cry now cause you had to get airlifted off of a— like a vacation— you were on vacation? On the second floor of our house? I’m with the kids I’m doing this I’m doing this I’m doing this, and you’re traumatized? Cause your girlfriend had to swim in your skivvies to get you? And I’m doing all this other shit? ... But he was traumatized. In his mind, I’ve never seen Clay so upset. I mean in his mind he just thinks good or bad, true or not, it was the worst time of his life. He was upset. He cried.
...You can’t show anger to Clay. Clay does not respond well to anger. So I never showed him the anger. I mean, I appreciated what he went through. I felt bad for him. He’s not interested in what I went through.
Well he wouldn't care. It wouldn’t register either way. You know, I could be angry, I could not be angry. He’s not going to be receptive to that. It’s really all about, it was a hard time for him and it was very hard for him, and I can’t pretend to know what he went through because I wasn’t there. He’s never asked me about what I went through. Ever.
...I mean, it was very— It was very traumatic. I think what I went through, it was way worse than what Clay went through. Despite what he says. But we were abandoned. We were left on our own. We didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know if I should go back to my family in Canada, I mean I thought about that. I thought about maybe I should just take my kids back home and enroll them in school.
You just didn’t know what to do. What do you do? What do you do? Where do you turn? You just— and you know my kids, the only reason I went where I went was because my kids had friends and their friends parents kept saying, “Come here, come here, come here. There’s opportunities here and here and here,” and I did what I thought was best for my kids. Not what was best for me. Because if it were up to me, I would’ve gone back to Canada in a heartbeat and just put em in school and said, “Suck it up.” But they didn’t want to do that. And they wanted to go where their friends were. And their friends were in Dallas and their friends were going to Houston. I could have had, I mean, I got offered from Hotchkiss, do you know where that is, in Massachusetts? Which is a big deal, it’s like Andover. It’s a big private school up in the Northeast, and they got offered full scholarships to go to Hotchkiss. Jamie and Jessie, not Casey. Jamie and Jessie because they were seniors. I mean. That’s a sixty thousand dollar a year school, free tuition, for the year, wouldn’t have had to pay anything. And they could’ve gotten into any college. You graduate from Hotchkiss it’s like graduating from a Harvard high school, you know, you get in anywhere. And they didn’t want to do it. “I’m not goin’ there!” You know how they get, “I’m not doin’ that. I’m not doin’ that. I want to be with my friends.” I’m like oh my God, you gotta go, you gotta go. “No I’m not going! I want to be with my friends! It’s Katrina! You can’t do this to me, you can’t send me away!”
So I succumbed, and... They ended up going to Episcopal I think in Houston. First they went to Memorial. I put em in a local, public high school in Houston. And Jessie spent every day in the bathroom eating her lunch crying. Every day. A mess. Every day. And she’d come home (Sobbing teeenager voice) “Oh. I ate in the bathroom! Nobody would talk to me!”
And I go “Jessie! You just go in the cafeteria!” (Sobbing teeenager voice) “Nobody likes me!” I’m like, Oh my God, and then you feel terrible as a parent. So then I fought and scrimped and finally I got them into Episcopal, which is where a lot of their Newman friends were. And it was a private school. So in their mind it was okay… Jessie and Casey had to go to Memorial, but Jamie was at Sacred Heart - Duchesne, so she got accepted to Duchesne, which is Sacred Heart, so she was fine. But it was Casey and Jessie. And Casey was okay. And Jessie was the crying in the bathroom girl. And then she’d come home, and Casey would say, “I had to sit in the bathroom with Jessie cause she was crying and I had to eat my lunch in the bathroom and it smelled like pee, and … So I finally got them into Episcopal, and they were fine there. But it was a wasted semester. They didn’t do shit. Casey did play volleyball but short of that, they didn’t learn a thing.
...We went from New Orleans to Shreveport, Shreveport to Dallas, Dallas to Houston. And that’s where we stayed. And I hated it the whole time. Oh my God, it was… I mean, it was nice. The people were very nice, very accommodating. The people in Houston… Like, the little area I lived in. They knew we were outcast. They knew we were from New Orleans. They were very nice. And hospitable.
But it wasn’t home.
Cause it wasn’t. You know, I wasn’t in my home. I was in some rented apartment that I didn’t want to be in. First of all, this is the thing. Somebody offered us, the reason we went to Houston was, they offered us a place to stay free of charge. They were gonna be benevolent. “Oh. We’re Christian. We’re benevolent. Come stay with us. Stay in this place. We have an extra place. Come stay here.” So I said, “Really?” Somebody referred us. Somebody from Newman referred us.
And they said, “Oh, you know, we have a place. We’re not using it. It’s yours, however long you want it, just come stay.”
And I’m like, “Really?” And they’re like, “Yes, yes come stay!” So we went down there and after a month they said, “Three thousand dollars a month.”
And I said, “WHAT? I can’t afford three thousand dollars a month.” I wasn’t working. Clay wasn’t working. I wasn’t working. It was bedlam. And they had told me, they had brought me here under the premise of saying, you know, it’s just an empty place, we want to be Christian. And at first, I was like, this isn’t real, and my friend said, “Oh no, they’re just very Christian people. They wanna give.” And I’m like Okay..
And after a month, they said, “Rent’s due.” And I said, “What rent?” And they said, “Well. Rent. You can’t live in my place forever.” I’m like oh okay.
And so then I moved out the next day and so right up the street they were charging, same place, maybe a little smaller, they were charging fifteen hundred. So after just moving, and paying everything to move, I moved again.
I had furniture. Cause I had bought furniture for this place. So. I moved into the other place and it was half the price and we were very comfortable there for another two months and then we moved back to New Orleans.
We moved back to Bella. Of course, your mother took all my wine. I know. I’m happy you did, cause it would’ve gone bad. Only the good ones! Only the good ones. Not the ones that went sour.
… Well wait, I did the same thing. I went to every house and took everything I could that was of value that would’ve otherwise been destroyed.
… Furniture. Dishes. I mean, anything that was there. I mean you knew when a house was going to be torn down the next day ‘cause they used to put a bobcat in the front yard and they put like an x on the door. And so you knew the next day it was gonna be torn down. So everybody like the night before would go through the houses and took whatever they wanted. Because otherwise it’s gonna be gone.
Every weekend while we were in Houston. I came back every weekend, not always with the girls, but just to rebuild. To empty the house, you know, check on the house, rebuild, whatever it took. But I came back every week.
I stayed at Mary’s sometimes. Sometimes I stayed at the house. Oh no I stayed there many times without electricity or running water. By myself. You know in all honesty, it wasn’t scary. I invited company.
Like if I went outside and there was somebody out, I was so happy to see them. Cause there was nobody on the street. And if you saw somebody it was like, “Oh! What are you doing here? Where do you live? What are you going through?” You know, you just wanted to share. But no, never afraid. And we didn’t even have locked doors. My door wouldn’t close. It was warped. It was. But, the only thing was, it was hot because you had no electricity and no running water, so it was uncomfortable. No nothing. The first time I came back I remember I was with Jamie Miller. Nothing was open. I don’t even know if you were here. You might’ve been gone then cause you went a few weeks and went and came back and went and came back and it was only Jamie and I, and the city was shut down.
There was nothing open anywhere. I mean it was just dead. Post Katrina. You know. Six weeks, eight weeks later. They were letting people back in, otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to come back in. But we went to Sun Ray Grill. Do you remember that place? Right off Metairie Road. It was the only place open. And everybody in there was just talking about Katrina. And it was just such a great feeling to be, “Oh my god. There’s people. Oh my god there’s food! There’s cutlery! There’s napkins!” It was so great. It really was. It was just a feeling of camaraderie and everybody in the same boat at the same time going through the same thing and even if you didn’t know ‘em it was like family. It was fun...
Well we were all going through our own dilemma… But isn’t it weird that we all—I mean—it really is surreal if you think about it. But. I would not, having said that, I would not give it up for anything. I think we went through something that was life changing. And would I give that up for a life of stability? No way? I’m happy, I tell my kids all the time, this is a life-defining moment and this is a historical moment and you lived through it. And be proud of it. Own it. And rise above it.
Who can say that in their lifetime, something like that happened to them? Not too many people, in the history of the world. The history of the world! Not even your generation, or this or that or that, but you talk about a Katrina, that’s a life-altering event, and I am proud and happy to have gone through it and lived, and you take that, and you move forward and you say, “Yay.” You celebrate it, don’t do anything but celebrate it. I mean, it’s a great accomplishment to have lived through it, to have been privileged, I mean it’s almost a privilege to have gone through that. It might’ve been hard, but everybody has hard times, really, they’re never momentus, they never make the history books. Everybody who lives a life has ups and downs and terrible times.
It’s something historical. Everybody in every life has a hard time, but if it doesn’t happen in a historical event, it’s not going to be remembered. We were lucky enough to have our hard times during a historical event. So we lived. We can say proudly, “We lived through Katrina.” It’s just like people who say, “We lived through the second World War,” or “We lived through difficult times in our history,” So we are one of the few who can say we lived through it. You know, my parents, what can they say they lived through.
… I like the fact that I lived through it. I think it made me stronger. It made my kids stronger. It made our ties stronger.
… I don’t personally see it as a negative. I choose to see it as a positive.
I’m not going to go there [ if something had happened to someone you loved]. I’m just saying that what happened to me, I choose to see as a positive. Now, I’m not saying, yes, maybe something untoward might have happened, and that might have changed my perspective.
No, not everybody needs to feel like it’s a positive. I personally choose to see it as a positive for me and my family. And that is not judging other people. They can see it as a negative. Different things happened to different people. And not everything that happened to them happened to me. Theirs can be much worse and I may not see it in the same light. But I like to think, just like - my aneurysm. I could see it as a negative, right? But I choose to see it as a positive because now I have a better job than I had before my aneurysm, right?
My job now is much better because now I can’t lift, due to my aneurysm. So I’m much happier, because I have a better job… Well my perspective on life changed. But my perspective on my job— life is a whole nother issue because you look at everything at a different perspective. But job wise. I want to say my job is better now than it was before the aneurysm. And I don’t want to jinx myself, so I’m gonna knock on wood every time I say that, but I gotta do it with the right hand (knocks), but. Yes my job is better, but you know, I mean, your dad’s still alive. He had an aneurysm. Do you change? People ask me that all the time: “Are you different now, do you feel different?” You get to a point where you get unnerved by the questions. You know, just uhh, I don’t know what to answer to that anymore.
Well, it’s soon. It’s soon. Because it’s not even been six months, so, it’s soon, but I’ve talked to your mother about certain visions I’ve had, and I’ve got to talk to you about this, because another guy at work who had an AV malformation has come up to me out of the blue to talk to me about things that have happened to him. And he said the exact same thing: about the room, and the dark people, and the light, and you know. And I’m like, “Okay. I don’t want to talk about this right now.” So. I don’t know. I’m not a really spiritual person, per se, I’m not religious, in the traditional way. Maybe I hope to be spiritual. But I’m not religious in any way. But I hope for spiritualism. Your mother and I talk about this all the time. Has it changed me? I wish it would’ve changed me more than it did. When it first happened, I say, “Oh, the further I get away from it, the more that I feel like I was before.”
So, do I have any long lasting effects from it? Hm.. I don’t know. I wish I had more ...
The only thing I’m open to now is that I’m less afraid of dying than I was before.
I was petrified of it before. I still don’t like the idea. I really don’t. But I’m less afraid of it. Because I feel like I’ve had a glimpse of it. That I didn’t have before. And so I’m not quite as afraid of it.
I was petrified of dying. I’m not so petrified of it. Maybe I’m still afraid of it. But not in the same way. Like there is a certain acceptance, there’s a fear with acceptance now. There was a fear without acceptance before, if that makes any sense.
That makes sense? I mean who wants to die? Does anybody want to die?
… Is it a medication or is it me?... Well I’ll be on the anti-seizure for two years, so we might have to wait for two years to find out.
I might have more, you never know. I’m just glad somebody’s interested in my thoughts… Cause usually she just laughs at me like she just did! “Oh you have other thoughts!? Okay!”
I really do think that everybody has so much to say. I really do think that you could talk to anybody in New Orleans and they would, like, gush. They would gush. And they wouldn’t know how to gush. And then they would say, “oh I feel stupid,” but everybody has something to say, I mean really, didn’t we all?
A whole world of experience you just have to tap into it. But I do want to be there I just feel intimidated by the process of putting pen to paper and saying these are my thoughts, these are my experiences. Bla bla bla bla bla.
Cause you recorded it. And those are my words and I’m standing by them goddammit!!
Helena-West Helena, Arkansas
A Piece of History-Katrina
There was a large tree on the side of our house at the end of the carport. I used to have to go out into the street to look in the sky to tell my troubles to God. One year it just split and one part fell to the back of the house and the other part stood strong…that is until Katrina.
I would tell my husband, “That tree is going to fall. I just hope it doesn’t fall on the house.” He would say, “That tree’s not going to fall.” I knew it would-eventually.
As I listened to the news about hurricane Katrina and her pending approach on New Orleans, and the newscasters saying we would get strong winds from it, I thought, “That tree is going to fall.”
I can’t remember exactly where I was when the Lord spoke to me and said, “The tree is going to fall.” I did not get afraid, I just prayed, “Lord, don’t let it fall on the house.”
I was at work on that fateful Monday, August 29, 2005. I fully expected the tree to have fallen by the time I got home. The wind blew stronger and stronger. When I got home, I was surprised to find the tree still standing. My husband got a call about a tree being down in the city, and since he is the street director, he had to go supervise its removal. I asked if I could ride with him. To my surprise he said yes. In my mind I thought, “When we get back, that tree is going to be down.” NOT!
We turned on our street and the tree was still standing. I was shocked. Well, the day was not over. Since the weather was getting worse and the stories were coming being broadcast about the devastation taking place in New Orleans, my husband said he would drop me off at a meeting I had to attend and either he would pick me up or if someone coming our way, they could drop me off at home. I am not easily intimidated by extreme weather or driving in it, but I consented.
The meeting was over around 8:30p.m. A friend drove me home. When we turned on my street, there was a tree across the yard…my tree. My friend looked up the street and said, “Oh, my. That tree has fallen across the street. Do you know whose house that is?” I started laughing and said, “It’s mine.”
She gave me the strangest look and said, “I’ve never seen anyone react like that to a tree falling in their yard.” I told her the story of my conversation with the Lord. I also said, “He did what I asked. He did not let it fall on the house.” Then I praised Him.
A trash receptacle sits beside our carport. The tree fell between the carport and the trash receptacle. It was as if an angel laid the tree down. It snatched down the utility, cable, and telephone cables, but it did not fall on the house!
My husband was out on another call, and he got the call that a tree was down on our street. He was shocked when he heard the address because it was our home.
We were hot but covered in our home. I shared with individuals that I would not dare complain because while I still had a home and was dry, people in New Orleans lost loved ones, livelihood, life, and property. Many were also suffering the degradation of having to live in the Superdome in utterly dreadful conditions. I can only imagine.
The effects of Katrina were and are far reaching, even 365 miles up the road in my hometown of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. Many individuals from lower Louisiana came to and passed through my hometown. I even had a student who moved from New Orleans because of Katrina. She was delightful. While my story is not laced with devastation, I just wanted to make a contribution to this piece of history.